It’s an odd question, but one I’ve pondered since the Bentley Continental R appeared in 1991. Just how continental is a Continental? Really?
What would happen if you took a Continental and didn’t just go for a cruise on the Continent but set it a test so tough that it would either prove itself absolutely against the sternest measure we could devise, or be exposed as a Continental in name alone?
That was the thought that brought me to a Luxembourg hotel where I met former Bentley engineer and now PR man Mike Sayer, and Matt Marriott and Lee Taylor, two of the company’s finest car drivers and fettlers. The plan was short in description long in execution. Which was to get up very early the following morning and drive a new Continental GT to as many countries on the continent of Europe as we could reach in 24 hours. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It did to us, too, at least until it all started to go rather wrong.
But that’s all to come. The good news was that we weren’t all going to cuddle up in the GT. Instead, Matt and Lee would follow Mike and I in a V8 Bentayga. They’d driven both cars from Crewe, stopping on the way to buy the worst walkie-talkies I’ve ever used. So we had even more reason to stick close together.
But we had done our planning. We’d start at 5.00am local time (I tried not to think about it being 4.00am in my head) and plot a crafty course running south-east across Europe. We had no idea where we’d reach but had booked refundable flights back from Thessaloniki, not as a realistic objective as such, but more of an aiming point. That’s Thessaloniki, Greece.
If I’m honest now, I knew in my heart that I’d never catch that plane, that we’d never get to Thessaloniki. But I didn’t think we’d miss our target by over 1000 miles. Yes, that’s one thousand miles. But we did. Here’s how.
We met bleary of eye in reception at 4.45am. I’d not slept well because I never do when I absolutely have to, but the boys seemed commendably cheerful. Our first trick was to leave Luxembourg before starting. Our hotel was chosen not for its gastronomy, but its proximity to the Belgian border. So as soon as we were in Belgium, we turned around and pointed the cars back towards Luxembourg.